After the two best seasons in league history, many have seemingly resigned themselves to accepting Bayern Munich's dominance in the Bundesliga.
Indeed, Bayern have collected an incredible 181 points in the last two league seasons and scored a combined 192 goals. In the process, they have broken and set just about every league record imaginable and swept the competition aside.
This year Bayern won the league with seven games to spare, not only the fastest-ever title win in Bundesliga history, but also the fastest among Europe's top five leagues.
The question invariably becomes—who can put a stop to this Bayern team? More importantly, are there any feasible contenders who can mount a realistic challenge in the coming season?
To answer that question, one must look at the teams around Bayern, why they finished so far behind Bayern and what they can do to simply keep up.
Any analysis should be prefaced with the acknowledgment of Bayern's impressive development in the last five years. Since Louis van Gaal's arrival at the club in 2009, the team has taken massive strides not only to become a force in Europe again, but do so playing an exciting style of football.
In those five years, Bayern have turned from a perennial European contender to arguably the best club side in the world. Pep Guardiola boasts one of the deepest squads in world football, and Bayern have appeared in a dozen Cup finals in that timespan.
Bayern have refined their style of play, developed multiple world-class players and struck a near flawless balance between attack and defense.
In that sense it is almost impossible to ask the rest of the league's clubs to keep up. This Bayern side could very well be the greatest German club team ever to be assembled.
That said, every dominant spell is accompanied by the eventual decline. Football is cyclical, and competition exists around Bayern to facilitate that change.
With that said, let's turn our attention to Bayern's closest rival, and in many ways, biggest competitor—Borussia Dortmund.
Dortmund's own dominance between 2011 and 2013 was a big reason for the emergence of such a strong Bayern side.
For the first time in over a decade, it seemed as though Bayern had a legitimate long-term competitor. Dortmund beat Bayern in the league and the Cup, and did so not by spending big, but through smart player development and scouting.
In the last two years it became difficult for Dortmund to keep up with Bayern's financial muscle, and a combination of key players leaving plus injuries allowed Bayern to assume their dominance once again.
If Dortmund are to upstage Bayern again, they need to flex their own financial muscle and expand their squad. This past season Dortmund were depleted by several long-term injuries, stretching the squad and its resources thin across three competitions.
Jurgen Klopp's team still managed to reach the German Cup final, but were eliminated from the Champions League and finished 19 points behind Bayern.
With their star striker, Robert Lewandowski, joining Bayern in the summer, Dortmund need to bring in proven reinforcements who can adapt quickly to the team and league rather than invest in the usual unknown player.
Hertha Berlin's Adrian Ramos is a good step to add depth, but not the solution Dortmund need to challenge Bayern. Simply put, Dortmund need to be ambitious in matching Bayern's reach and resources.
Bayern beat Dortmund 3-0 in their first league encounter this season, their biggest win against them in five years. But truthfully, the gap between the two is not that large. The return fixture ended 3-0 in Dortmund's favor, and although the league was already decided by then, Dortmund showed that they can still keep up.
Nothing suggests that with a fit squad next season Dortmund cannot mount a serious challenge. Klopp's side had a fantastic start to the season and fizzled toward the winter break when injuries mounted. A deeper squad should prevent the odd stumble next year, which means Dortmund could push Bayern until the end of the season.
Dortmund are the most realistic short-term answer to Bayern's dominance. The reality is that the rest of the league isn't ready just yet. But there are several teams that are building sides that could challenge for the title in the coming years.
Bayer Leverkusen had an unfortunate dip in form after the winter break, but the club had its best-ever first half of the season.
Similarly, Schalke's disappointing first half of the season was followed by the best second half of the season in club history.
Both Schalke and Leverkusen boast talented young squads that, while inexperienced, are gradually finding the balance of handling multiple competitions. Consistent European participation has created an influx of funds, and their academy and scouting systems are some of the best in the country.
It is hard to speculate just when the two could mount a title challenge, but there is every indication that they will be even more difficult to beat in the coming years and thus make the league that much more competitive.
Lastly, there is Wolfsburg—a club with plenty of resources, a veteran coach who knows the league inside and out and arguably the best squad the club has ever assembled.
Their 2009 title seems a long time ago now, but Wolfsburg deservedly snatched up a European spot this season and just missed out on the Champions League by a point. They have assembled one of the most competitive squads in the league and will surely add to it in the summer with Europe on the horizon.
It would not be surprising if Wolfsburg improve on their season next year and really push Bayern and Dortmund.
If Guardiola's job of following Jupp Heynckes' perfect treble-winning campaign was not hard enough this season, he now faces the challenge of a league that has grown stronger by the year. All five teams that finished behind them this season will be stronger next season, and with that, Bayern's dominance will face its biggest challenge yet.
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